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February 8, 2016updated 04 Sep 2016 10:28pm

NHS handed billions to go paperless in digital transformation drive

News: Patient care is being moved online as Microsoft, Apple & Google ensure apps are fully supported across mobile platforms.

By James Nunns

The NHS is being handed £4.2 billion by the government in order to push it into the digital age.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt made the announcement this weekend that the NHS will be given the money in order to create a paperless service.

The idea is that a digital service will be more convenient for both patients and doctors and help with faster diagnoses. The money will be spent on moving to electronic records, online appointments, prescriptions and consultations.

Patients will be able to go online, access apps and use other digital tools to book appointments and order prescriptions while they will also be able to speak to their doctor online.

Google, Apple and Microsoft are set to team up in order to ensure that they are fully supported across mobile platforms.

It is hoped that the funding will help to produce £22 billion in savings by reducing waste and increasing productivity. Hunt said: "The NHS has the opportunity to become a world leader in introducing new technology – which means better patient outcomes and a revolution in healthcare at home."

By March 2017 the government hopes that at least 10% of patients will be using computers, tablets or smartphones to access GP services and by 2020 it is hoped that a quarter of patients with long-term conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and cancer will be able to monitor their health remotely.

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This is not the first time that the NHS has attempted to go more digital, having mixed success with projects.

In 2011 a project designed to upgrade NHS computer systems was abandoned with costs reaching over £10bn. Then you have the much maligned scheme which was designed to extract anonymised patient data from GPs and put it into a central database.

The Major Projects Authority labelled the scheme ‘unachievable’ in its annual report last year.

The authority said that a number of improvements are required including the need to: "clarify, agree and communicate the programme scope," "appoint a full-time Senior Responsible Owner," and to "approve explicit go/no go criteria."

An increasing amount of technology has been moving into the NHS as companies such as Accenture and IBM sign contracts to modernise the organisation.

Last year the NHS signed a contract with IBM to modernise the National Health Service Electronic Staff Record system which serves around 1.4 million employees.

Accenture won a 5-year contract in July to implement an updated version of the NHSmail service for the NHS in England and Scotland. The contract aims to provide a cloud-based email service being deployed with add-ons to strengthen the core service.

Despite all this work being done, the NHS has quite a mountain to climb. Research carried out by YouGov on behalf of Trustmarque Solutions found that around 96% of Britons don’t have online access to their health records.

This problem is exacerbate by the finding that nearly 40% of adults not knowing that they were able to make GP, hospital consultation or hospital test appointments online.

While the £4.2bn investment is encouraging for the NHS it does not secure success for the programme. Expensive failed projects are littered through the NHS’ recent past and a close eye will need to be kept on the increased expenditure versus return.

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